View Cart | License | Blog | Contact
[ Home ][ Testimonials ][ Help/FAQ ][ Affiliate program ][ CD collections ][ My tags ][ My orders ]

Things to Consider When Scoring for Games

Part 3 (Cities of Legend)

By: Kole

These articles are not intended to be a master source for everything one must consider (and how to prioritize them) when scoring a game, rather it will be a series of articles based off my experiences with each newly completed project. As I learn from the process, the other developers that are involved, and write about the experiences here, I hope the information will help better guide your future scoring efforts for games.

Hello Again! It’s been a little while since I’ve written one of these articles, but I just finished scoring a new game and learned quite a bit from the experience that many fellow Game Composers may find useful. The game is called “Cities of Legend” and it’s a Social Game for Facebook based off the New York Times bestseller, “Legend” by Author Marie Lu (Developed by Wicked Sweet Games & Published by CBS Films). I’ve worked on Flash games for Facebook before, but have never had the opportunity of creating the “Audio World” for an established IP. That in and of itself was quite a fun challenge, but I also learned a few other things I’d like to share on what a Composer should keep in mind when scoring for games.

(Click image for larger version)

I. Platform Constraints

This is the third article in this series and the first subject of each one has been about Platform Constraints. It is so tightly knit to video games and the direct performance of your music system, that I’m fully expecting to learn something new on each project (especially considering there are so many platforms to create games for!). “Cities of Legend” is a flash game for Facebook, so I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the constraints we had to work around.

First and foremost, people expect the loading times for their Facebook games to be minimal. The longer it takes your game to load, the higher the probability of the player just closing the window and ignoring your game altogether. This expectation directly limits the amount of music (and quality at which it’s being played back at) you can have in your game. For “Cities of Legend” we decided on three Sixty (60) second loops for: The Rebels Home, The Republic Home, and Combat/Mini-Game.

Another factor that limited us to three music tracks was Flash’s inability to create a basic interactive music system. Rather than spending our time trying to force the engine into something it’s not familiar with, we decided to invest our time into reinforcing the most important moments in the game with strong, thematic music that can easily loop.

My friend and talented Composer, Gerard Marino, shared his way of thinking about music loops with me a while ago. I’m going to paraphrase a bit here, but he basically said, “If you only have a minute of music to work with and that minute is going to be looped over and over again, put so much detail and interest in that single minute that the player can hear something new each time it repeats.”

(Click image for larger version)



I directly applied this concept to the music of “Cities of Legend” and ultimately it does a better job of reinforcing the game world than a few ambient loops would. It may be harder to pick out the looping point for Ambient tracks, but we felt that approach wouldn’t be appropriate for a game of this size. The whole game flow is very fast and Ambient tracks (in that short of a time frame) have nothing to add or say to the game. Which conveniently moves us to the next subject...

II. Get to the Point

Not all games feature a twenty-hour single player campaign that develops your hero from rags to riches. So the “Symphonic Composer” mindset of taking your time to cleverly develop your motifs in unique ways over longer periods of time may be completely ineffective (depending on the style, game play, demographic, etc.).

While “Legend” (the Novel) is rich with detail and must take its time to dramatically crescendo, “Cities of Legend” (the Social Game) is meant to hastily throw the player in the world and have them immediately grasp almost everything that’s going on. Even if the player is unfamiliar with the world, within the first minute of playing they should understand the following: Pick a side to fight for, understand the function of the UI, and realize how to jump into battle. So as the Composer, we initially have about a minute to help reinforce or describe the tone of the faction they chose to fight for. After that amount of time, the player will most likely jump into a battle.

So we have a minute, what can we say in that amount of time?

Early on we decided that each faction (Republic vs Rebels) should have their own designated theme, instrumentation, and overall tone. I had read “Legend” before working on the score, but meeting with the Producer and Author was very helpful. For the sake of organization, I’ll provide a visual breakdown of how I determined which various musical elements I assigned to each faction.

(Click image for larger version)

III. Work your Themes into Trailers or Promo Videos

I mentioned in the previous section that developing your motifs over the course of a game may not be the best option (or even possible) in some scenarios. However, if you’re able to negotiate and work on the Trailers/Promo Videos (and have time to Compose the necessary themes before the trailers are released) this is a good place to do it.

Rather than just writing stereotypical trailer music that would just serve to move the action along, I was able to sneak in bits and pieces of each theme (Rebel & Republic) in our various Trailers. Furthermore, I was able to “stamp” the ending logo with the Rebel motif, which just so happened to align with the overall tone of the first novel (and thus served well as a “Main motif”). I found that this was not only musically satisfying, but helped establish the world of “Legend.” This is especially effective since you won’t hear those themes (or probably that same combination of sounds/instruments together) anywhere else.

Trailer 1 (Republic theme sneak in)
Trailer 2 (Rebel theme sneak in)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on the “Cities of Legend” and would highly recommend both the game and novel to anyone interested in near future dystopias with strong characters. Thanks for reading fellow Game Composers and I hope you’ve found this useful!

You may also want to read:

About the author: Kole Hicks is an Author, Instructor, and most prominently an Audio Designer with a focus in Games. He's had the pleasure of scoring mobile hits like 'Bag it!', has provided audio for Indie PC titles like 'Kenshi' and 'Jeklynn Heights', and was nominated for a 2012 GANG award for an article written exclusively for titled, "Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative Music & Visceral Sound Effects... Kole Audio Solutions.
Other articles you may find useful:
Asset Management: How to keep track of sound clips using metadata and cataloguing. Three ways to build a sound library: Record sounds yourself, or find another way. Timeline of classical composers: Get an overview of the lives and times of classical music maestros. Depth and space in the mix, part 1: How to use reverb, pre-delay, EQ and delay to make your mix better. Depth and space in the mix, part 2: Further tips on improving the sound of your productions. Maximizing composer agreements: How you as a composer for games and other media can get the best out of the contract.
YouTube and music use: How "fingerprinted music" is causing advertisements on your YouTube video. Using Reverb to enhance your production: John Radford on the use and abuse of Reverb in music. Do the work: Music composers' tips and strategies for overcoming procrastination and getting the job done. Sound effects in music composition: How you can use sound FX in music production for games, film, media. Mixing as part of the composing process - part 1: Planning your instrumentation and approach. Mixing as part of the composing process - part 2: Making your sounds and instruments work with your composition to best effect.
Sound for picture - Faking it: Some great tips on making your audience feel they are there. Royalty Free music in 24-bit: Why we are upgrading to High Definition music downloads. Choosing music for a short film project: We look at some options for obtaining your musical score. Choosing music for a Documentary: Help and tips for obtaining your film soundtrack. Tips and Curiosities from Computer Game Music, pt 1: Piotr Koczewski discusses video game music. Tips and Curiosities from Computer Game Music, pt 2: More talk about composing music for video games.
Copyrights in Classical music and Public Domain music: We try to explain why "public domain music" still has rights attached to it. 1 year exclusive: Some of our best music can be found only at first year. Browse royalty-free music super quick: With our free Demo DVD-ROM you can skim through tracks quickly on your own PC. Getting started with voiceover: Things you need to know if you would like to make a living as a professional voice talent. Sennheiser PXC 450 noise canceling headphones: Video review of these classy noise reducing headphones Surviving your first composing gig: How to handle your client when composing music for video games or film/TV.
Creating radio ads with music and voice: We discuss some good practices and neat tricks for a great sounding ad spot. Recording sound for perspective: Good sound recording practice for a realistic result. Making a long-playing sound or Audio-CD starting out from a short, looping sound file. Creative workflow in Sonar, part 1: Save time and frustration while working in Sonar music production. Surround music in video games: Rob Bridgett discusses the viability and aesthetics of 5.1 sound heaven Shockwave-Sound's sister site for sound-fx
We introduce our new site for listening to and buying sound effects.
Cue the Music, Part 1: Using copyrighted music in your project or presentation Cue the Music, Part 2: We look at Five ways to get music for your project without breaking copyrights. Cue the Music, Part 3: How to use Royalty Free Music to the best effect for your project. Working with audio in Sony Vegas, Part 1: Importing & Timestretching audio files Working with audio in Sony Vegas, Part 2: Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files Samson Zoom H4 portable recorder: An in-depth product review of this handy sound recording unit.
How to get music on your web site: We explain how to Embed music on a web page and how to make a Flash that plays music. Music rights terms and expressions: Podcast safe music, Sync License, Royalty Free Music, Performance Rights... Confused yet? Royalty free music explained: What really lies behind this term? We talk a little music licensing history and look at this expression. How to build a music track from loops: Do this to get the "set of music loops" to play as a longer music track YouTube Safe Music: How to find music for your YouTube video and properly credit the composer and publisher. Common myths and misunderstandings about music rights: We try to clear up some of these.
Orchestral MIDI arrangement: A beginner's guide to the Orchestral MIDI Mockup. A guide to virtual pianos: We take a look (and a very close listen) to virtual piano plug-ins. Strengthen your 3D animation with audio: How to use royalty-free music and sound-fx with 3D animation Ideas for Effectively Using Sibelius and Pro Tools 8: We look at ways to streamline and optimize your composing work. Cleaning up noisy dialogue: Get rid of background noise and improve sound quality of voice recordings Interactive Music in Games: We look at ways to make videogame music react and respond to the players actions.
Writing music for games, part 1: Video games composer Kole on some issues to keep in mind. Writing music for games, part 2: Kole dissects another video game music project. Writing music for games, part 3: Finding a way to compose music for Facebook games and stay within the boundaries. Writing music for games, part 4: How to make the most of what little resources you have available. The Cost of Music: Options for filmmakers to source music for their film. Music Production hardware and software tips, part 1: Important issues you need to consider when selecting your tools, computer, CPU, RAM, software etc.
Music Production hardware and software tips, part 2: Useful tips for choosing your hardware for music production. Composing music for cellphones / mobile phones - Part 1: Tips and tricks of the trade. Composing music for mobile phones / cellphones - Part 2: More useful info for producers. Observations of Memorable Themes: We discuss music composition and how to make your melodies memorable. Developing musical ideas in video games - Part 1. Ways of making the music work for the game. Developing musical ideas in video games - Part 2. More thoughts on scoring music for video games.
Ideas for creating unique musical colours: Tips to try to make it sound and feel 'different' Choosing the right classical music, part 1: We recommend 10 pieces of bombastic, powerful, awe inspiring classical music. Choosing the right classical music, part 2: In this part we recommend 10 beautiful, soft, heavenly and emotional classical music tracks      

Would you like to contribute an article to We will pay you $150.00, and we will include your bio, a link to your web site, and if you wish, a quick plug of your product or service. is used by almost 4,000 unique visitors every day. Contact us if you have an article idea/pitch for us that you feel is useful, relevant and well written. First, though, you may want to read this blog post about article requirements.

Copyright notice: This article and all other text on this web site is under Copyright to This text may not be copied, re-printed, re-published, in print or electronically, in whole or in part, without written permission from

[Switch to Classic Navigation]